Monday, December 26, 2011

A Flawed God

This is probably the last book I am reviewing this season. And it was just about ok.

The title is quite intriguing, I expected to find some novel about one man who fights against different odds and probably comes up with some sort of theory about a flawed God and a flawed universe. Well, I couldn’t have been farther from the plot. Of course it is a story about a man who fights against some kind of odds in his organization. But then, the flawed God refers to the stock market. The book talks about how organizations are controlled by the stock market which is in itself a dicey concept, and how they don’t care enough about the employees. A little communistic? Yes yes…

Plot. Plot is essentially the story of how the protagonist gets recruited a s part of a secret organization and how he later on tries to take control of the situations he faces, with the new confidence he has gained from joining the organization. Also, how he later on discovers that most of these have been fabricated by his co-worker (and love interest) in order to help him realize his true potential. The pace is not too fast, while the mystery of the secret organization drives your interest, there are points where the pace is too slow to sustain.

Theme is definitely different. Someone has finally tried to talk about how employees are treated and power play at work and all the untold secrets of workplaces. However, there is a risk in writing a novel about a theme that is by itself considered a little boring. And a theme which people try to forget while at home. When you take such a risk, it is incumbent on the author to try not to use language that is too official or boring. In this case, the author has not written that way, and at some points his style has a tad too much legalese. In fact, talking about style, maybe it is his choice of words or sentence length or I don’t know what else, but though the plot is quite simple the story telling seems a little laboriously done. There are points where the book is too heavy on the reader.  But then again, maybe that was intended, and maybe it adds to the theme :)

Charactewrs. Not much to say here, because there are very few characters being talked about. While the protagonist and lady love are the main ones, and it is obvious this guy is one of potential, but who needs a small push, while the lady is one who is clever enough to identify the right candidate and who can go great lengths to help him, there is not much else to understand about either. And the other characters are much worse- no one really stays in your mind for long. Maybe the author was too busy concentrating on the issues he wants to cover and the plot that he didn’t too much on this one.

So, overall- the book is ok. One-time read if you are interested in HR stuff and people and their interactions at the workplace. Else, it does have some interesting viewpoints to offer (the one that explains ‘flawed god’ is pretty good) and though a little red, it has some constructive suggestions as well. The booklet portion (games at the ‘playshop’) could have been included as part of the plot, as they seem to be quite interesting. And yes, great title! ;)

Well, that’s all folks! :)

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at

Sunday, December 11, 2011


And, that was my 100th post!
A hundred- Seems like a big milestone. It makes me feel I have come a long way. I guess I have.

From the blog with a French name intended to publish poetry and issues to a blog with a name that is more down-to-earth that can cover reviews, sci-tech and almost anything that crosses my mind which I think someone might wanna read. From a blog that had a black background and sunset (and, many people told me, a font that was not very readable) to a blog which has more widgets and more link backs and (I hope) a much more user-friendly font and background color. Ya, I guess the blog has evolved.

The good thing is I have evolved too. I have learned a lot in this time (though not learned enough HTML yet! :( ) But many of the comments have enriched me. I have learned to write more concisely, and (I hope) in a less abstract and more user-friendly manner. I have acquired the courage to write posts that are bolder than anything I had ever written earlier (even if I did end up getting criticism for them!) and more importantly, I have started reading a lot more than before- especially in terms of variety, but also in terms of quantity- the different blogs and websites I am reading now and the books I get to review, thanks to BlogAdda. So, thanks all, for your encouragement, and for the criticism. Look forward to more feedback and more growth.

On a related note, do let me know the negative feedback. Maybe I am not consistent enough in posting (I know I have long gaps once in a while when I vanish almost). Maybe I am too serious in the topics I choose (I know this happens a lot :( ) Maybe I should make the content more interactive. Though, unlike Emraan Hashmi in DP, I have never slept reading my own blog, it is possible I am missing some kind of entertainment quotient. If I am, please let me know- I am all ears. 

In any case, I was thinking this morning about what motivates someone to write. There is definitely the part about having someone read your blog. But sometimes you write for the sake of writing. For the enjoyment of seeing your own thoughts take shape on paper (ahem.. I mean computer screen!) And like Roark so rightly says, 'I could say I try to design for my clients the best house to live in. But I don't. Perhaps that's how I know how to be more considerate of them than if I were to think about them' (Quote summarized). So answering a comment from one of my previous posts, I am definitely happy when my readers like/enjoy my writing, but my motive is the joy of writing itself. And like Roark, I believe that motive adds to the integrity (if not the success) of the writer more than the desire to impress anyone would!

Anyhow, I have enjoyed the journey so far. Interestingly, this 101st post comes at a time when I am at a crucial milestone otherwise as well. So, as I enter a new country and a new stage of life, I hope my writing improves and the journey gets ever better :)

Thank you, all! So long...

P.S: I know 101 sounds like the 'moi' amount people give in marriages. Maybe, I should have created a landmark 108th post, sticking to true Iyengar tradition ;) Maybe if and when I reach the 1000th, I will wait for 1008 :P

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

AFL? - Part 2

(Continued from part one)
And a long break later, I am back. For all those people who I disappointed in the first part, there are some clarifications I need to make on why I started this article and what evolution actually means. So I am making my Part 2 into a Part 3, and putting this up first. 

There are 3 reasons I started this article. One was because of the way that particular argument was presented in the particular book I read. It sounded quite convincing in that context. Also, if you have read enough of evolution, you would understand that many human behaviors do actually rise from simple behaviors designed to hunt or kill in animals. That does not mean what you do today is to hunt or kill- just that that’s where your behavior started. So it is very well possible that many of current human behavior be an evolutionary consequence of lust. The third reason is that- in a country like ours this kind of argument is very easily accepted in private and seldom in public. People secretly relish any theory that moralizes the very acts they find immoral. And that is precisely why someone needs to bring out such a theory in public and list exactly what the flaws are.

However, I need to clarify what I call flaws.

Many people told me this theory is obviously wrong, because we can’t all be motivated by a low carnal desire. Now, THAT is not a flaw! Just because something does not “sound” nice or consoling does not mean it is not true. If science proves humans are selfish (for eg.) by nature, so we are. There is no point in saying it is not valid because it does not fit in my optimistic view of life. But, note the IF.
Anyhow, EVERY theoretical argument deserves to be examined and argued about. The arguments for or against may be obvious, but there must be LOGICAL reasons to accept or reject a theory. Anyone who says “I refuse to argue about this” is simply giving in to blind faith. Of course, if the question were something like “Can cows fly?” there isn’t too much to argue about because the arguments against it are obvious: a) cows are not light enough to fly b) cows don’t have any faculty (like wings) to fly with c) cows are not an advanced enough species to devise a mechanism to fly, and so on. But note that there MUST be arguments. If someone told me without thinking cows can’t fly because that’s how they are or God willed them to be so, I might someday find a genetically engineered cow which can fly (long-shot, but still!). Point being, I cannot and will not reject ANY theory without sufficient arguments against it. This theory is also being looked at from the same angle- with an open mind to see its for’s and against’s and then decide.
Another thing people tell me is something of this sort-- “I don’t accept this theory. I am not playing counter strike out of lust” or “I am not doing charity work out of lust” and stuff like that. “Of course you aren’t”. The theory didn’t say YOU as an individual magically transformed all your lust into your other motivations to study, work etc. What it said was that most of human action arises from an essential desire to impress other human beings (especially the ones who have impressed you!). And the desire to impress itself is evolved from the desire to impress a partner. Please read the last 2 lines again. THIS is the heart of the AFL theory. Go back to a list of your long term goals and see if you did not have any desire to impress anyone other than yourself at all throughout. Some of us might be able to say that, but more than 90% of humans work with an overt or covert, conscious or subconscious intention to impress. All that the AFL theory says is- since impressing someone itself started out as a side-effect of the impressing-your-partner gene, most of your actions are a by-product of this primitive behavior.

Second. I think I missed out a little on explaining what evolution actually means or implies. Most people look at evolution the same way they look at transformation. But there is an essential difference between the two. Evolution happens bit by bit. Piece by piece. Transformation happens drastically. Besides, evolution works in a scale of thousands of years on thousands of individuals. So a behavioral trait to impress could become a behavioral trait to lie to impress only in thousands of years. The reason this is so is because evolution is NOT metamorphosis. It is not as if early man was very truthful and 1000 years later one man started hiding the truth and another 1000 later some men started saying white lies and then they grew into grey lies. That is NOT evolution.

Evolution is like a sieve. Hundreds of humans would have lied and hundreds would have spoken the truth. Assuming lying helped some survive (or impress the partner better in order to survive and reproduce) and always speaking the truth didn’t, more and more humans who lied would survive and pass on their lying genes to their children while the truth-speakers would not survive and not pass on the genes. This would happen for thousands of years until no truthful gene was left out, or very few truth speakers remained or everyone evolved into a state midway between the two, which optimized the chances of survival. What this means is that for the lying gene to spread, millions of humans have tried to lie and succeeded and millions have spoken the truth and failed. All this hypothetically. (Please don’t comment saying there is no gene for lying :( )
In a similar way, when one says the desire to impress a female evolved into a desire to earn more- what it means is- more and more humans that earned more found it easier than those who didn't to impress others and especially a woman, and hence more and more of their genes survived and eventually, the male biological system optimally had genes that prompted men to earn more (so that they could impress a woman).* Once such a gene was created, there is actually no need for the man to really impress a woman. His biological setup (mental/physical/whatever) would still make him want to earn more, independent of his desire to impress a woman.

That being said, is there still a catch in the theory? If not, do I agree with the theory? Answer is- No. I don’t agree. But what’s the reason I refuse to agree with the theory? What was the real catch? Part 3 coming soon! :)

*Remember it is called "Survival of the fittest". It may be cruel, it may not sound nice, but so it is.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Resident Dormitus

Can there be a person who doesn’t know what he wants? Yes. Can he be such that he revels in not knowing? Possibly. Can there be someone who not only revels in not knowing what he wants but also tries to trivialize every good opportunity he gets, who thinks that not defining any morals for himself is a way to be unique and who tries his best to be a nuisance to strangers while trying to do as little with his life as possible? Guess so. Can this person also try to understand his situation in a philosophical manner and eventually succeed in fighting his internal demons, though the answer dawns on him after committing a near-murder? Vikas Rathi answers this question with a “Yes”, as he sculpts the character of his protagonist in as inconspicuous a manner as possible.
Achet, a young man from Jaipur who starts off on his corporate career, after a  business education, is the kind of person who never takes independent decisions. He tries to do as little work as possible (mental, physical, official, whatever) though he continues to exercise his brain enough to make innumerable trivial jokes at the expense of other people. Not particularly heartless in introspect, but selfish and cruel in action, Achet is the man who is nearly evil by virtue of not having done anything. He pushes his luck as far as it can go, until a murder pushes him back to the reality he has evaded for long.
Plot-wise, this book is just ok. It is interesting though Achet’s inactivity stagnates the book in many parts and one might just lose interest. However, the plot hook right in the beginning ensures that you will eventually return to the book, at least to find out why was there a murder at all.

The real essence of the book is in the character of Achet and the experience of seeing the world through his eyes. There will definitely be many parts of the book where Indian youth would identify with him- if you have ever taken a decision purely because that’s what everybody does, (or) if you found that you have started drinking for no reason tha the boredom fo the corporate jungle soon after you started on your career, and you know it’s bad for you, but you also don’t feel like stopping, you would relate to Achet. Of course, if you are plain lazy, you would still relate to him.

If you, like me, are none of the above- if you have taken decisions on your own (Whether right or wrong), if you generally have the courage to face your true self and shun inaction, then this book might help you understand your anti-thesis. (Often, it is most difficult to understand the other side of the coin when it might seem totally senseless from your side- that's where this book helps!)

One good thing about the style of the book is that Vikas talks quite sensibly about a good many serious topics, in a way that you don’t even realize he talked about them! The other thing is the way he ends the book (which, of course, I will not talk about!) Of course, I wouldn’t like the constant drinking and smoking pot and what not, but by now I have learnt to expect these as Indian authors’ tickets to sounding authentic and mature! Also, like Vikas himself says, one often finds the greatest insights from sources that are otherwise not to your taste. This particular insight was itself an example to that theory (Ya, I am obsessed with recursion! ;) )

There is one problem though.. Most vices have a tendency to infect you if you look too closely into them (that maybe why they are termed vices!) - primary one among them being laziness and inactivity. To some extent this books slows you down and infects you with a boredom and vagueness in your mind (which you can only remove by readng a different book or watching a movie!). However, that only proves that the book is true to its own cause.

So, do I like this book? Not greatly. But, it did offer me an alternate perspective and contributed in at least a small way to improving my understanding of people. 

Will I recommend this book? Yes. If you think you are directionless, if you don’t know where you are and don’t even think that you might ever find your life’s calling this book might prove to be the “Resident Dormitus” for u. Or if, you are sure of yourself, at least to some extent, and,
like me, you are interested in understanding people who are your opposites in life, you should. Whatever the side-effects, it at least leaves you with some insight. And for that alone, any piece of art would be commendable!

This review is a part of the " Book Reviews Program at

Sunday, November 6, 2011

All for Lust?? - Part 1

“The world runs on lust”, Alex said. At this point I put down the book Resident Dormitus which I have been reading since yesterday (and which will be my next review candidate) and started thinking whether Alex’s theory is really true--  do people really do everything only for lust.. This post is a product of this particular mental aerobics session of mine. (This post became quite long, so putting up the first part here. Part 2 coming soon! And ya, I know I don't usually write adult stuff and this might not go well with some of my readers- you can still read on.. This post is very much in the style of "Love is in the air"... )

 Ok. So the theory here is that everything that men (or women) do is with the intent of finding a better partner to bed. Actions like trying to find a better job (better job = better salary= higher chance of finding a more desirable spouse), or having spikes in your hair (looking cool= being more desirable to opposite sex) quite obviously substantiate the theory. But what about actions like becoming the CEO of a company? In the book, the guy argues that wanting to become a CEO is a product of the desire to earn respect, which is itself born out of the desire to find a better partner. He goes on to argue that in every action a person does, he/she seeks to differentiate him/herself from the majority in order to increase his/her chances of finding a better partner.

Looking at it from an evolutionary standpoint, this theory
looks like it makes sense. As all animals, humans started out as a species whose ultimate goals were to find food and to reproduce, while staying alive, where there was always competition in finding food and sex; evolution would naturally lead to a set of humans whose every action would optimally lead them to both. To some extent, the act of reproduction is more important to a species in evolution than finding food, once the animal has passed on its own genes to an offspring (selfish gene point of view*), and hence we could hypothesize that the incentive from food eventually wanes out and all actions are intrinsically motivated by lust.

You could think of it as a game and some actions you do increase your HP (Hotness points!), where HP is a measure of your desirability/eligibility in terms of finding a partner. If the goal of the game is to get maximum HP and keep yourselves alive, and if you had a time limit or an energy cost for doing any action, with time you would end up doing only those actions that increased your HP, such that you might reach a time where all your actions shall increase your HP in some small way or the other. (Rather, you would stop doing anything that doesn’t give any HP). So with a game theory-like argument, it is quite logical that humans might have ended up as a species whose every action is essentially motivated by the prospect of finding a partner.

If you are like me, you would stop here and ask- wait, isn’t there a catch? Yes! Yes! Of course! :)

Imagine a society of people who value celibacy. The most desired man in such a society is the one who can resist the most irresistible of temptations and who remains single throughout his life. This is purely hypothetical, of course, but there is nothing to stop such a society from existing in this world. Men in such a society might still go after power and money, and they might also style their hair into spikes, but their motivation might be to become the best looking celibate ;) From an evolutionary standpoint, one might argue that such a society will cease to exist since of course, no one is reproducing. Again, not quite true. Such a society could have a small subset of its population, say about 10-20% of people who are not “allowed” to be celibate, and who “must” reproduce. The children might be adopted by the rest of the population. If anyone wonders how this arrangement would work, one can imagine it as a type of caste system with the upper caste being celibate and prestigious, and the lower caste delegated to the menial task of sustenance! This kind of arrangement can survive for centuries, if backed by the proper belief systems and religious approvals. Again, all this hypothetically.

But I hope you do see there is a catch in the “All for lust” theory we talked about. So, forgetting the hypotheses, what’s the catch in reality? Which loophole in evolution allows humans to develop into a society that values celibacy?

(To be continued...

 Part 2 here. )

*Selfish gene point of view: Not going into the theory, here I mean that all organisms act in a way to ensure their genes' survival. Since after reproduction and sufficient growth of the offspring the gene does not require the organism to survive, the effect of food can be ignored.

Monday, October 31, 2011


Conversations. The synopsis said a book with poems and short stories which reflect your own inner conversations. The problem with evaluating (or critiquing?) such a book is that most people have not read much of introspective stuff so if they have a taste for it they would find it good anyway. It is difficult to compare the book with an objective standard unless you have done enough introspection yourself. And as a corollary, if at all you are the kind that reads classic poetry and classic short stories (aka the minority) you run the risk of writing harsher reviews and having higher expectations. Since I have done all this and quite obviously over-intellectualized and over-philosophized every small detail of my life, I must admit at the start that if I rate the book 3, you can read it as 3.5..

Having said that, I must admit I started the book with very low expectations. After having been disappointed by too many Indian poets and writers, I couldn’t afford to start with a filled cup again. Luckily though, the book was good. It didn’t sweep me off my feet, it is not in my top 5, but it is good.
It is a collection of short stories, and not the red herring types.
More introspective and down-to-earth- just as the cover promises. Writer Rajeev Nanda weaves tales that touch very important issues that each of us faces (more about them later) and the fabric does come out pretty well. Not too bright and fabulous but home-spun, comfortable and yet, wise.
(Note- It also has some poetry, but that's not too great. I will not comment further on the poetry and this review will focus only on the short stories..)

Rajeev starts with a minor Tagore-style story about dreams, then he moves on to a good discussion with/about God. A tale of a peaceful soldier and a predictable taxi ride later, there is the chance meeting between two travelers (Ya, it reminds me of “The Eyes have it” and “The woman on platform 8”  !), and then we are invited to listen to four eulogies for a man. If you pause at this point and observe, he has actually started with child-like dreams and the maturity level grows into touching adult issues like chance meetings that are part-attraction part-affection and part just that-- chance! Then we step into bolder territory- extramarital (and internet) relationships! After seeing two-three such, we walk into a group of friends who take the courage to face the truth about themselves and the book culminates with a peek into a euphemistic (and partly recursive) conversation about God and religion. But for 2 stories about God, the rest are mainly relationship-centric. Of course, there is a lot of liquor flowing through the book, as are physical intimacies and sex. Is it just me or is the world getting more openly carnal lately?!

The plots are not entirely novel, but then the story here is not in the plot, it is in the sub-text. There are some stories with a minor twist in the end, but I hope they were not intended to be twists, because I could see most of them coming all along. Again, it is not a big deal because plot is not the focus.
What about the characters? Some stand out (Like Melanie in Intersection- I just loved her!) Some were intended to stand out, but they fade away (Like Kundha in The Taxi Ride - this Roald Dahl style story somehow did not achieve the full surprise int he twist!). There are too many similarities between the characters in consecutive stories- men who try to push their limits, women who are both smart and good-looking, married men who are attracted to other women, mid-life crises, cynicism (the sheer number of times the word ‘cynical’ was repeated in the book was daunting!) -- with so many similarities, many of the characters fade to form one vague outline and few (almost none) stand out. But again, maybe they were intended to be inconspicuous so that one could identify them with themselves..

What I liked about the book are the many questions and many alternate viewpoints it offers. Some questions are fresh in the way Rajeev asks them, like “does commitment make sense in today’s world” (The Rabbit Hole) and “Would God care if mankind destroyed itself” (
Tête-à-tête), some old yet haunting- like “Do we lose something by worrying more about the destination than the journey?” (The Truth Club) and “What is the most important thing in life?” (Splinters) and the mother of all questions- “Does God really exist?” (Conversation). If you read the stories and paused in between to think about the viewpoints, the book would truly reconnect you to your inner conversations. (As the cover promises, again!). Of course, personally some of these questions have occurred to me before, but then that was part of the book’s promise, right? :)
The bad part was that very few portions were striking and made lasting impressions. And yes, Rajeev needs to work on creating unique characters. 

Anyhow, my favorite stories were Tete-a-tete, The Rabbit Hole and Conversation. Overall, it is a good book if you want to think and introspect. Not great, but yes, commendable. Must try if you have not read this kind of stuff before.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Space, your time's up!

I know I haven't written in a long time. Been busy (yes, that's always my excuse! :( ) And I kept thinking I would do a review of "The Immortals of Meluhas" and a post on a Reading session I went to, then a post on the big questions in Life and then on "The Virtue of Patience". I hope I will do them some day. But today, I thought  that my "To-do" List is always growing and I might as well post what I am thinking about right here right now..

So I was reading this article about Space Travel (Shared by Deepak) which talks about the end of the space age and I thought I would write about it. I don't know how many of us noticed when the NASA closed down its space shuttle program. It was the day when I felt that it was going to be the end of the charms of seeing the stars and imagining the vast beautiful (empty or dark-matter filled) space and dreaming of space travel. Of looking into a telescope and imagining man would be there soon. But even if you didn't fantasize all this, if you just noticed the news, this article is worth reading. It is very logical (and as most logical things, negative in some sense), so I do hope its predictions do not come true. But then, even the best of wishing cannot change the logical course of action*. Or could it??

The first question the author  asks is, how far do you think man has traveled since 1980. It is a very good question to start with, simply because most people think that we have gone at least as far as the moon. Man did step on the moon once, didn't he? So we must be at least that far. But apparently, that isn't true. We have not gone anywhere beyond 0.1 times the Earth's radius post 1980!!

One might wonder why. Why not space travel? The answer lies in asking the reverse. Why was space travel funded in the 60s in the first place?? Nations thought then that they were going to colonize the moon. And there was a cold war going on. It made sense to invest in anything that helped you grow more powerful. Today it might just be too costly. Besides, today, there are no real superpowers. The developed nations worth anything at all are not leading the political game. (European countries, Australia, and so on). The only nation in a pseudo-superpower position is the US. And its economy is so hollow you never know when it shall collapse. There are a few potential powers- India, China mainly. But neither is developed fully today. There is no government today that would want to fund space science. Nobody can afford it. And if anyone could, there is no specific reason to. Besides, people are busy fighting terrorism and oil wars and the like- why would anyone burn their pocket to spend on something that wouldn't solve any problem for them?

The author also brings up some interesting points about the scientific challenges, assuming we get the funding. Rocket science is, well, ROCKET SCIENCE! It is not a fun filled cake-walk (or moonwalk, if you please). The challenges are many. The ROI is bleak. Fuel prices are ever-increasing. And NASA's action makes other countries think even harder about venturing into (this) space. Yes, we might not see a space race ever again.

We might, but chances are higher we might not. There was the day of assembly-line, the day of automobiles and then the day of rockets. Today is the day of iTechnology. It does not mean we don't use assembly line or automobiles anymore. Just that we may not innovate them a lot. Those paths may never again be broken, however well trodden. Already, not many students opt for astrophysics majors. And Star trek terms don't ring much of a bell to the Angry Birds Generation. It may be hard to accept, but the day of the large is over. It is the day of the nano. And continuing the philosophizing, I wonder, am I going to live to see the day silicon dies a death? Shall I be writing that the day of my favorite digital electronics and smart devices is gone? As always, only time can tell...

And oh, there was this line in the linked article- "Some future poet or composer, perhaps, will someday gather it all up in the language of verse or music, and offer a fitting elegy to the age of space." I hope I do. Watch this space.

* Aside, there was a similar line in The Selfish Gene - which made me simply love Dawkins oh, I need to write that review as well. And it really is too good a book to miss!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Love, Poetry and Aftermath

And when those poets spoke of love, red roses and dewdrops
They did not talk of the arguments- the disappointment of not being understood,
Of the days his eyes went red in anger, and her's in tears
Of the long nights when sleep grew to become an elusive stranger
Of the flowers falling off the garland of love, and the thin thread stretching to elastic
To bear this. Even this.
Wonder why they did not imagine, the days when the magic of "love" faded away,
And the sparkling colors of the rainbow turned a dull gray
Of the days after love died, though when alive it was true
Of the days when love died, but only after killing you.
Maybe the poets were never successful in love to witness its aftermath
Maybe love is truly beautiful only in dreams...
Only in dreams.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chanakya's Chant

A book that has been on the bestseller list for about a year now. A book that is among the list of “Crossword Recommends” and “Landmark Top 10” and all the others. A book that has been called everything from “mesmerizing” to “very engaging” to “unputdownable”. And offered to me as part of “Sponsored Review” program. All the hype makes it very difficult for me to tell the world that 1) it is very much putdownable 2) it was just about average. But then, I believe in honest reviewing. So let me tell you at the start that this book is very much like a Bollywood movie- all plot and masala. And without even the ethics that Bollywood tries to have.

So if you are looking for a book that has a good plot but nothing else to offer (oh yeah, you get to flaunt to friends that you read a historical novel and sound intellectual), this is a very good Indian book. If you want to read a book that doesn’t tax the intellect or the conscience, and shows you the worst of India, this is again a good choice. If you have read enough history to know it well, or if you have some little morality left in you, this book will leave you with a bad aftertaste. 

Getting on to the plot.. As the cover says it is a parallel story of Chanakya and Gangasagar Mishra. The former wants to crown Chandragupta (Maurya) and the latter Chandini Gupta. (Yes, it really IS that obvious!) Both use unconventional (read most unethical) strategies to achieve their goals. Not only bribing prostitutes (which is still ok) and hiring eunuchs to castrate a man , but also falsifying documents, double-crossing friends, murder- just about every wrong thing you could dream of is there in the book. Of course, you know they will win in the end. And you know it in the first scene when Chandini is sworn in as Prime Minister. (And if you did any history at all in school, you know Chandragupta also became an emperor). So not much of a mystery (which is why I found it putdownable). But yes, the plot moves fast, and Ashwin untiringly thinks up newer and newer “strategies”. The plot could have been better if Chanakya or Ganga failed at some point, and the reader would want to know how they shot back. But Ashwin makes them invincible, which also means unreal.
Characters.. The beauty of the story is that nobody has any sort of character (not even a bad or evil character). Like their strategy for winning elections, the character is to have no character. The only character I remember is the honest ex-home minister who is the only one immune to Ganga and who appears in the story for about 2 lines.

Theme.. Politics and history. Unfortunately, the politics shown is so dirty that at no point of time do you sympathize with Ganga. If the other guys are bad, he is worse. Why would a reader want him to succeed? Because he is the protagonist? That is so typically Bollywood movie type logic, which I am quite incapable of. And history. I can write a separate book on the number of anachronisms and wrong language usage in the book. If it was supposed to be a historical comedy, they would have been appropriate, I guess.

What makes the book really bad is that it was a very promising plot. A good writer could have created a masterpiece with memorable characters and real mind-blowing strategies. And yes, he could have used original quotes. There is no fun in reading a book where almost all the witty lines are lifted from brainyquote and thinkexist*. Google can do that. The talent of a good writer lies in his originality. If the plot was historical, one could have given it a fresh perspective. And one could have sculpted characters who nobody would forget. All I can say to readers is- if you want to read a real strategy story on Chanakya, read MudraRakshasa. And if you want a real modern day political novel, read The Prodigal Daughter (it has really amazing and “original” quotes and a pretty good plot, which is why Archer is such a successful writer.)

Sorry Chanakya’s Chant, but no donuts for you this time!

* As one can verify from the appendix, many of them are not even from Chanakya himself. And the few Chanakya quotes available are not among the best of his.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The 6pm Slot

Nothing important in life ever starts with appropriate background music prepping you for it. The same is true of my first sponsored review. It started with me expressing interest to review books as part of BlogAdda's free review program... and here I am reviewingThe 6pm slot”- a book by Naomi Datta, whose amazing first line I just paraphrased! :)

Intriguing first line. Even better is the line that says "Everything important starts with a PPT" (I loved the author for that one!)

And intriguing cover (shown aside), to be sure. That is, if you have some taste for adult content. But if it leads you to think that the book, like the anchor whose picture decorates the cover, might be all looks and no brains, let me warn you. Luckily, that isn’t true.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I was reading this math post. It is about puzzles and one simple method of solving most math puzzles- thinking of an extreme example. What he means is that you can assume some extreme values for the variables involved, and deduce the answer by logic. (I like the puzzles listed as well!)

Admittedly, this is a very useful method. Especially in your competitive objective type exam scenario (Though for this scenario, I personally think "Inky Pinky Ponky" is undoubtedly the method of preference!)

Few things I want to highlight though. One- You should think of the 'right' extreme example. Some extreme examples might not lead you to any conclusion at all! I remember how, in schools, teachers used to start explaining proofs by saying "draw perpendicular AD to BC" or "AM to NP" or some such thing. And immediately I would think how was I supposed to  know which perpendicular to draw? Later on I realized that if you understand geometry well enough, actually rephrase- if you know well enough to think from a geometrical angle (Pun unintended!) you will know exactly which perpendicular to draw. But point remains that you need to choose the "right" perpendicular (Oh! Again, pun unintended!) In the same way, one does not always know which extreme example to choose. And if you don't choose the right one, you might end up a) getting a long and roundabout proof or b) not proving anything at all!

Anyway, why I brought this up here is that this method is not only useful for mathematical problems. I find it a good tool to understand human behavior. For eg: When someone says I value money but I value family more, one easy way to verify it is to ask the question- "if you had to give up all your money so you could retain your family would you do that?" or something of that sort. Basically pick an extreme scenario and check your statement. In fact, this method helps even if you are simply trying to understand your own selves.

Anyway, I have used this method before, and though not mine, I thought someone should give a name for it. "Extreme Case Evaluation" sounds OK by me. Maybe I should publish a paper on it someday...
P.S: I hope people found out why the title is ECE... Ya ya, I know I am wicked .. :P

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ephemeral truths?

Talking about ephemeral truths and eternal lies.. I wanted to write about this truth test thing.
I personally find it funny/weird/childish for a CM to promise or ask someone to promise in front of 'God' about anything. Come on, even kids know how to lie.. Or in Hindu style, it is Kaliyug, for God's sake. Even if the CM had promised, I wouldn't have believed him entirely. But what he did in the end was funnier. He just dodged the issue entirely.


He refused to take the truth test he himself devised and expects us to believe he is true? I hope he isn't as naive as that. But that brought me to another question. If you truly believe in God and if you truly believe God will punish you for misdeeds etc, isn't corruption a misdeed? Isn't trying to hide corruption a misdeed? If you are anyway going to be punished for all these, you might as well have promised. (Or) If you truly believed in God, why were you corrupt in the first place?

I have seen this kind of 'god-fearing' people a lot. (Like people who fast for one month thinking about Butter Chicken throughout!) People who spend their lives making black money, evading taxes, misappropriating funds, what not. ("Aisa nahi karoge, toh zindagi me kuch nahi kar sakte.." or the "Ner vazhi romba suthu kozhandai!"* types) And then they go and write off one crore to charity. I am honestly unable to understand if they think their God is that dumb- like he will forgive you if you pay him enough! It is like they believe in God in spurts when they realize he might punish them. And for the rest of their lives they continue without any morality. If I could be God for a day, I would spend at least some part of it ragging these people. You know, just keep arguing with them, until they accept they thought God was as big a fool as themselves.

Anyway, back to our CM. I was discussing this stuff with a friend and we came up with the theory that the CM thinks corruption is not wrong as such. But he knows lying to God is wrong. And that's why he didn't make the promise. That answered my confusion a little and the theory sounds OK to me, though I can't find for the life of me how anyone can think corruption is not wrong. I can imagine someone saying, "Everybody does it. Why penalize me?" or even "Without doing so, you can't become rich" but "NOT wrong"??? Honestly, either I am incapable of that level of self-deception or I am impractical by Indian politics' standards, but corruption IS wrong. Even to save your soul. 
And if you really think God exists, forget your double standards and better believe in him fully enough not to be corrupt in the first place. Or you will land up in this funny "God-promise I didn't do it" situation. And then, don't blame me for laughing!

*This was one of Sujatha's most awesome dialogues. I really really love Sujatha for this one! For those who don't recognize it, it came in Anniyan.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ridiculously online...

Long morning. Continuous meetings and my head is really too full to get any work done until lunch. So was looking at some of my incomplete posts, and saw this one. It is a link I read long ago, and which is plain funny-- 6 RIDICULOUS arguments that actually happened on wikipedia.

I particularly liked this one "Is Adopting a Black Sheep on Farmville Stereotyping?" . Reminds me of a lot of things-- Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai put together, a Dilbert comic (Scott Adams is a genius!) and farmville days of my life.... 

P.S: Actually reminded me of this comic as well...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mashed bananas, pyar and shopping....

It is the end of a particularly awesome weekend. And after a long time. Started off mildly with a visit to Landmark where I ended up reading HP7 instead of  looking at new books (I have been re-reading the series, ‘coz I had forgotten most of the finer details), but at least that helped my wallet a little. Anyway, watched a play yesterday evening after a long time, and 2 movies today- all of them were a real laugh! Ended it with Anand Bhavan coffee- so I really can’t ask for more.
Now for the stuff I watched.
Butter and Mashed Banana

VERY GOOD play. It is really long since I saw one, the last I saw in B’lore was “Night of January 16th” and though I love the story, it was good-but-not-very-good. This time Rangashankara was full (never seen it like that before) and that only served to increase my expectations. Fortunately, I was not disappointed. The play is a satire about freedom of expression in India. The dialogues are amazing, and the actors did a great job. Each of them seemed carved for the role, and I liked many of their theatre techniques (Expressions, use of music, use of dance, almost everything). Thing is drama is something that not too many people watch, so you might think that this is only good for regular theatre enthusiasts. But no, not at all. Anyone who has watched a movie and heard a Beep where there should be some slang that anybody could have guessed, can watch this play and completely relate to it. Coming to think of it, even anyone who has ever used a dictionary can go watch this play :)
And that was the beauty of it. It was hilarious enough for the common man and creative enough for the serious art critic. I hate to tell out plots, so that is all I will mention, but I strongly strongly recommend you to watch it. There are 2 shows in Mumbai on Tuesday and Wednesday, and two more shows at Whitefield next weekend. If you have an hour, and haven’t seen a play in a while, it is a must-go. Actually, even if you have never seen a play at all, it is a must-go!

Pyaar ka Punch-nama

This was a lighter movie, and was mostly comedy revolving around relationships. I expected the feminist in me to come out saying “that is not how women are” and “this is so chauvinistic” etc. But actually I didn’t. There were so many dialogues in the movie and so many situations which I could relate to real-life behavior of women I know, so I had to admit the movie was right about portrayals. Women ARE demanding, and women ARE confused. Not all of them. Not at all times. Not to the same extent. But then, women are all that. And more. It might be because of the way society views them, or because of the way they are brought up; it might be because “Man's love is of man's life a thing apart, 'Tis a woman's whole existence”* or it might be because of natural selection but then women really are like that. (I know I must be the only jerk to think of evolution after watching Pyar ka Punch-nama, but I completely blame Dawkins for that- he has driven that angle too much into my head :( ). Anyway, I even came up with couple of theories about why women are the way they are and what men/women can do about this, but I am not gonna trouble you with all that.
Let me just say it was a good movie to watch, and hilarious. It is still on theaters, so if you want a good laugh, it is quite worth the money to go watch this one. (By the way, if you are taking your girlfriend, be sure to warn her that it is just for fun and surely she is special and ‘definitely’ not like the girls portrayed in it ;) :P)


Confessions of a shopaholic- a movie I have seen at least twice already, second time only for Hugh, but he really suits the serious boss role. But I still liked watching it today. Shopaholism is quite an alien feeling to me, though I think B’lore is infecting me a little with it. But then, this movie always reminds me of why the “fish crisis” (fiscal crisis) happened in the first place, and why Indian parents are right about a lot of things, like teaching their children the value of money. Otherwise, nothing particularly great about the movie, but if you like shopping (and more so, if you are a girl) it is a must-watch.

So, that’s it. And to round up my list of recommendations- it will be very much worth the 15 bucks to finish this up with Anand Bhavan coffee, the way I did. :)

*That's by Byron in Don Juan. I hadn't read Don Juan until I wrote this article and was surprised to find it had so many wonderful lines (Including truth is stranger than fiction!) and also some great analysis of men and women. Find the original here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Artist

Though this comes on a relevant date, this is not related to M.F.Hussain at all! I was thinking of something and merely found the artist to be a very good metaphor...

He stood, brush in hand, pondering. Again.
A dash of yellow on the cheek,
but even then the complexion was not right.
A tad darker, a tad lighter, it went on like the monkey fable.
And yet, that image in his mind, shining clearer than ever. Tantalizing.
With each brush stroke he knew what was wrong,
But correct this one, and the right eye’s hazel is too strong.
Search as he may, for the ideal in the real,
it could never be as perfect as in the mind.
Maybe that inconspicuous yet irritating flaw
was what made reality real, and he had to give up;
Maybe his mind's ability to imagine it was the true masterpiece 

And he had to merely appreciate himself;
Or maybe it was both perfect and possible. And he was to go on searching after all...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Statutory Warning: This post is actually the result of one small MOSFET in TH-1 fluttering its gate- followed by a lot of chaos theory. It is weird, incomplete and random. Author not responsible for any brain damage. Or any other damage, like your company falling down 100 points on the market, because all of you are lost in deep thought after reading!
Warning (2)- If you clicked on the link for gate, and found the wrong one: I told ya, this post is random. Chaotic. Now don't start.

Perspective. It is one of my favorite words in English. (Most of you might have heard me say my standard "depends on your point of view" or "depends on what you want from it".)
I think sometimes that almost everything is a matter of perspective. No reality. Only shifting points of view and manifestations.

I remember the times in college when I realized there were a lot of things I had never even thought about while I was still at home, and suddenly they seemed weird from an outsider's point of view. And I keep claiming that my perspective has widened. Yet, when I say the "Indian junta is like this only", all I know of it are the few people I have met- maybe a 1000 odd. And we writers think we can talk about "mankind in general". Funny, huh?
Each time I think of the Big Bang and Big Crunch and Evolution (Ya. Selfish Gene remains on the list of posts "coming soon") and Bose-Einstein Condensates and Bhagavata Purana and F plasmids and DX 11 and 22nm , I am awestruck. 

Maybe in reality, each universe is just a giant petri-plate we are on and someone is just testing us all in a big lab. And after thinking of that, all of religion, politics, movies, small fights, pj forwards, technology look minuscule. Insignificant.
And yet again, when I look at my weekly status reports and deadlines and quarterly plans,  nothing seems as important as hitting those targets. And I just can't help getting excited about the 3-d transistor. Until I remember the petri-plate, that is.

And I continue to wonder, what is the point of it all........

P.S: Actually, I changed my mind. Perspective, I mean. I can't help getting excited about the 3-d transistor. Even after the petri-plate! Maybe, that excitement IS the point of it all.....
P.S 2: I didn't know that I would write about the 3-d transistor thing when I started the article. The TH-1 and the 3-d tsr are unrelated. :P